Thursday, October 27, 2005


For those who care about these things, the Commonwealth of Virginia has won praise by a nationwide group that monitors campaign contribution disclosure laws and practices.

According to a report by the Campaign Disclosure Project (described as a joint effort of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law, with financial support from The Pew Charitable Trusts),

States across the country provided better access to candidates’ campaign disclosure records in 2005 and particularly improved the usability of their official disclosure web sites, according to Grading State Disclosure 2005, a comprehensive, comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states. Grading State Disclosure 2005 follows two prior annual reports, and is online at:
Virginia was singled out in a news release from the project, in addition to being ranked in the top ten:
Of the 34 passing states, eleven received grades in the A or B range, up from eight in 2004 and only two in 2003. Washington received the highest grade (A-) and rank, Florida ranked second with a B+, and California came in third, also with a B+. Overall, the study found that 13 states’ grades improved, while seven declined. Among the study's significant findings:

-- States with the best overall campaign disclosure programs, in rank order from one to ten, are: Washington (A-); Florida (B+); California (B+); Hawaii (B); Georgia and Illinois (B, tied for 5th); Virginia (B); Michigan and Texas (B-, tied for 8th); Rhode Island (B-); and Ohio (B-).

-- States with the weakest overall campaign disclosure programs, all receiving Fs and in rank order from 40 to 50, are: Delaware, Nevada and New Mexico (tied for 40th); North Dakota; Vermont; New Hampshire; Montana; Alabama; South Dakota; South Carolina; and Wyoming.

-- Virginia was the most-improved state, climbing from a D+ to a B and from 22nd to 7th place, followed by Iowa, which moved from 38th to 31st place, and Hawaii, which improved from 12th to 4th.
In the report's section on Virginia, it explains:
Virginia’s disclosure law is strong and ranks 8th in the nation. Candidates are required to disclose detailed information, including occupation and employer, about contributors giving over $100. Contributions made just before Election Day are reported before the election. Expenditure disclosure is excellent and candidates must report vendor name, subvendor details, and accrued expenses. Disclosure of independent expenditures is required, but last-minute independent expenditures are not reported until after the election. The state’s enforcement provisions could be improved, particularly in the area of auditing. Electronic filing is mandatory for statewide office candidates and voluntary for legislative candidates, though the Board of Elections estimates that 85 percent of legislative candidates participate in the program.

The State Board of Elections web site now features a comprehensive, searchable database of itemized contributions and expenditures, which is the reason for the huge jump in Virginia’s Disclosure Content Accessibility grade from an F to a B. The new system greatly improves access to campaign records, but is a bit cumbersome—for example, to view the names of all individuals making contributions in 2005 from a particular zip code requires looking at 18 different search results screens (three screens each for six different committees). To improve further in this area, the agency could add the ability to search by a contributor’s employer (data which is already included in the search results), and consolidate the search results screens.
Before I became aware of the Campaign Disclosure Project's report, just last night at the fundraiser for House of Delegates candidate Tom McCrystal, I had a conversation with Charlottesville Republican Chairman Bob Hodous in which we both agreed that Virginia's campaign finance laws should be a model for the rest of the country, and for federal law, as well: No contribution limits, no limits on who may give to candidates, but full disclosure readily available for any interested party to examine. As long as everything is done in the open, the possibility of corruption, real or alleged or imagined, is minimized.

What a wonderful alternative to the First Amendment-emasculating McCain-Feingold Act!

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